*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a new story series throughout the spring and summer called "Maroon Moments", which will highlight some of the top performances and most pivotal contests from the last two years across all Maroon athletic teams.
CHICAGO – With the arrival of the 2018-19 wrestling season, University of Chicago Head Coach Leo Kocher was faced with a dilemma. Two of the top wrestlers on the squad – junior Kyle Peisker and first-year Ben Sarasin – were the same size and would likely be in the same 174-pound weight class. Many of UChicago's significant competitions only allowed one entry in a weight class. So the question became whether Peisker or Sarasin might have to move up in weight to take on bigger opponents.
The Maroon coaches elected to avoid having two of their most formidable wrestlers officially face off in the practice room at the start of the season. Rather than go head-to-head to decide who could claim the weight class, the duo both started out the season at 174 pounds for the opening tournament – the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Invitational. Sure enough, both wrestlers made the finals of the weight class, and the coaches decided they would not wrestle the first-place bout. In the very next tournament at the Concordia (Wis.) University Invitational, Peisker and Sarasin matched up in the bracket again and the coaches again declined to have them wrestle each other.
For team dual meets, Kocher alternated which one would move up to 184 pounds that day. Keeping both wrestlers comfortable in their weight class produced plenty of wins. Heading into February, Peisker's season record stood at 27-4 while Sarasin was 22-6.
"Kyle Peisker is what I would call sneaky good," Kocher said. "He is uncanny in finding the weakness of an opponent's position. It is why he was able to go up against bigger and stronger wrestlers and succeed – he went after what they were not in a position to defend. Ben had some excellent skills, but he typically put his athleticism, speed and strength up against his adversary, because in almost all cases that was where he had an edge."
However, it was only delaying the inevitable. The NCAA Regional meet would determine who would qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships, and only one entry per weight class was allowed. The coaches believed Peisker was better equipped to handle opponents up at 184 pounds and still have a good chance at earning All-American status at NCAAs. But they ultimately left the decision in Peisker's hands.
"We made it Kyle's call," said Kocher. "He was the upperclassman, he was the better wrestler, he could claim his true weight class. Kyle was facing the choice of either taking the surest route of being an NCAA place winner, or taking on the bigger challenge – and a bigger risk of failure – by giving up his weight class to his first-year teammate."
It was not an obvious call to the coaches. If Peisker went up in weight class, three of the possible four outcomes were bad – one could make All-American and the other may not, or both might miss the podium altogether.
Ultimately, the Maroons reaped the ideal scenario. Peisker decided to move up to 184, and both grapplers flourished. The duo qualified for the NCAA nationals, and came through with clutch moments to earn All-American status. Peisker finished fifth at 184 pounds while Sarasin placed seventh at 174 pounds to secure their spots on the podium.
"Kyle had a couple of intense matches," Kocher said. "In what they call the All-American round (win and you place, lose and you're done), the scoring table had the score wrong and it really put Kyle in a bad situation tactically. It could have very well caused him to take an unnecessary risk and lose. We dodged a bullet that should have never been fired.
"His next matches would determine how high Kyle could climb in terms of placement," Kocher continued. "In his first match of the second day, he had a terrible first period where he was taken down and not only could not escape, he spent a lot of time and energy fighting not to give away back points. Down 2-0, he started on top in the second period and broke the match open with two four-point turns, and we all breathed a lot easier."
That experience proved beneficial for each wrestler the next season in 2019-20. Now as a sophomore, Sarasin took on the 184-pound weight class and posted a 26-1 record. Peisker returned to 174 pounds in his senior campaign and went 10-0.
"During the season, Kyle was ranked in the coaches' poll to make the championship match," Kocher said. "But, as sometimes happens, Kyle incurred a career-ending injury halfway through the season. We all felt terrible.
"But one thing Kyle does not have to feel terrible about is his All-American season where he chose the team over himself, where he took a chance in order to give a teammate a chance," Kocher continued. "It is something his teammates and coaches will always remember."